Updated: March 8, 2019
At the end of 2019, something really awful is going to happen. Windows Phone is officially going to be kaput. And that means my super-awesome Lumia 950 will have become a collector's item. The dwindling arsenal of usable applications is already felt, and things won't improve as time ticks by. Which is why I decide to prepare and start considering the inconsiderable. Using an alternative mobile device.
I've been a proud Nokia and then Lumia user my whole life - at least the portion that applies to mobile devices, that is, and the notion of having to go with Android or iOS does not make me too happy. But then, things might not be that bad. Hence, Motorola Moto G6. You've already read my review of the Moto G4 dual-SIM model a couple of years back, so I thought testing a successor model might be a sensible idea for a future eventuality. All in all, Android has made some rather serious progress since I've first tested it roughly seven years back (and to be fair, iPhone is also less annoying than it used to be), and if anything, this could be the right no-choice for me. So let's see what gives.
Moto G6 specifications
There's a reason why I decided to go for this particular model. The same reasons I chose G4 in 2017 for me commander in chief (wifey). You won't get a much better phone for any less money. The spec is quite impressive, and the price fairly low. You get a fully unlocked, dual-SIM phone that measures 5.7 inches diagonally, comes with an octa-core processor, dual rear camera, HD+ screen, 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage for USD249. That's very reasonable.
Let me be a little more specific. The phone I selected comes in dark (indigo) blue, and feels more posh than the G4 model. The older device had a white plastic cover, and it felt somewhat cheap. The new one has a classier texture to it, and radiates more finesse than the price tag would suggest.
Inside, you have an octa-core 1.8GHz Cortex-A53 processor, Adreno 506 graphics, 64 GB of internal storage that already comes encrypted in the Android 8.0 Oreo operating system, with a micro-SD expansion slot that allows for another quarter of a terabyte storage. The phone also has 4 GB RAM, which makes it a proper computer in every aspect. The screen measures 2160x1080px and has a 424ppi density.
The camera is also better than in the G4 model. You actually get two rear cameras, 12 MP and 5 MP, so this should help give more depth to your pictures. The selfie one has 8 MP LED. You can record video at 60 FPS and full HD resolution with the rear sensors and 30 FPS with the front one, also 1080p. Now, hear, hear, there's still a nice audio jack, yes please. The battery is no longer removable, alas, so you win some, you lose some. This battery comes with 3000mAh capacity and turbo-charger, so you should be able to quickly replenish the spent chemicals. This is done using a Type-C micro-USB cable, identical to the one I have on Lumia 950.
Initially, I was considering one of the new Android-based Nokia phones, but the price difference was just too big to justify the purchase, especially since this is going to be a test device for the time being. No matter how hard I tried to spin the equation, Moto G6 beat all other phones.
Phone setup & privacy
Here comes the hotstepper. You should read carefully, because this is quite important. You've all read the shocking drama news about this and that violation of user privacy by this and that company, something that has become a norm nowadays. To that end, I decided to make my Moto G6 dual in purpose, like its SIM functionality, hi hi. One, test Android for everyday phone use, ergonomically and spiritually, against my sweet Lumia. Two, see if it's possible to configure an Android smartphone for conscious privacy usage without any silly games or rooting.
I popped the top cover open with a provided pin (this took a bit of jiggling), and placed one nano-SIM into the phone. I turned the device on and was blasted by a color-dizzy boot screen and a disturbing greeting that says Hello Mo-to. Seriously, why would you have flickering yellow, pink, blue and green as the splash? Why not something less glaring? Anyway.
I configured a brand new account. Android asked me if I wanted to enable Web & app history and location history. I declined both these options, plus a whole range of other questions. So yes, you DO have an option to limit what you share with Google, but I guess most people don't bother reading. On the other hand, the explanations are a bit alarming, so you may think you will be missing important usability features when this is not the case. But then, you can't expect ordinary people to understand how operating systems work and the meaning of data collection.
Once I reached the system I spent something like three hours going through the menu and tweaking EVERY single available option. This is not an easy task, it's grueling and exhausting, but you CAN minimize your privacy footprint by a huge margin if you're willing to invest energy. During this process, there were nudges, suggestions and other annoying prompts from the system, plus the alarming tone.
Location is a good example - once you open Maps the first time, you're asked to enable location. Makes sense of course. But then, if you allow it, you're also forwarded the the settings menu where you're asked if you want to enable location history (once again). And I might actually allow this if I understood the purpose of this setting. Why is there any importance or relevance to my location history? It's not like the AI algorithms offer any magic in this regard.
But you can safety turn access off as a default policy, because the phone will ask you to allow things when applications do request them. So it's better to start with pretty much everything off and then granularly turn them on. The default configuration is quite open. Then again, most people do not have the ability to change these settings. Going mobile has not made the nerdy operating system internals any easier to understand.
I also disabled the Nearby thingie and Google Assistant. Like I said, there's a lot to go through, but I really don't need any help. You may say this is helpful and convenient - and yes, perhaps it is, in some situations, so then, when you do need them, enable them. There's no reason for everything to run on, all the time. Also saves the battery. Oh, we shall have a complete Android privacy guide as a separate article.
I also disabled NFC - this is required for Payment stuff, and you are asked to provide a payment method the first time you open Google Play, but you can skip this. Then, I disabled permissions for every single app except the obvious, allowed core Google services to have their access, and declined the use of any biometric stuff.
It is also worth mentioning that during the initial setup, Android asks you to configure your fingerprint reader, even though it warns you that this method is less secure than others. So why offer it? This is like asking all the tinfoil people to rise and shout: data harvesting.
Smart Lock is another interesting one. If you disable password save to your account, you can still use auto sign-in, although the option will be grayed out if you turn the first toggle off. So it's up to you to decide whether you require this. But the most important thing is: you do have a choice.
I did allow backups, but turned off photo sync (you get unlimited storage for hi-res pics), as well as any photo recognition, sorting or tagging feature available. Some of these need to tweaked separately from the system settings, so you do really need to pay attention to every single app and its functionality.
Part of the privacy game was turning permissions off for pretty much every app out there. I did leave Google Play and such allowed, because what's the point. If you don't trust the operating system, don't use the product. To be frank, while the permissions are rather liberal, they are not wild. And things have improved a lot over the past few years. Maybe we should thank GDPR for this?
Do note that you also have special permissions in addition to ordinary ones, so you can tweak those, too. There's also usage access. All in all, you need some tech savvy to master this properly, but it's entirely doable and without adverse effects (except things not being plug-n-play as you may expect them to be).
Security & updates
There were three rounds of firmware updates from Motorola, incrementally going from last summer to now. Each one weighed about 80-90 MB and needed a reboot. But the setup was fast, only about three or four minutes each time. App updates were also really fast. In the future, Moto G6 will also have an upgrade option for Android 9.0. The old Moto G4 is breezing along nicely with the latest updates, so that's cool.
The phone is encrypted, and you need to setup a boot/screen lock if you want to use the Find My Device service. You can hide sensitive content from notifications, and when you connect the phone via USB, you need to explicitly allow file transfer. There does not seem to be a trust option like in iOS. Overall, this is pretty tight.
Things going quiet ...
Despite my due diligence, it took a while for the system to calm down and stop pestering me with suggestions and offers. I do feel this is annoying, because I didn't just randomly turn things off. So this does not help in any way. Thinking of my Windows Phone 10 setup, that one was far faster and less annoying. Whereas the desktop side of things is quite noisy and pesky. Oh the humanity.
There's very little bloat. The app list is fairly reasonable, and you do get a few handy tools. You also have Outlook for mail (makes more sense than any other option really), but the rest of the Office suite is not installed. You also get a Linkedin app, which for me is the least useful piece in the software arsenal. Some of these apps cannot be uninstalled, but you can disable them, which is sort of half-okay.
I have to say that Firefox behaves quite all right. It supports voice and location, if you need those options, and I didn't encounter any incompatibility just yet. Now, you will also have an Android logo icon overlay shown if you visit websites that have their equivalent applications installed on the phone, like Youtube. This is another example of a little nudge toward native apps rather than websites, although in essence, there's really no reason to be using dozens of apps and share random data with so many entities. This has always been true, and I've done as few app connections and integration as possible, on every single smartphone I've tried and used.
Even in Firefox, you can turn a lot of the stuff off. There's Firefox account nudge, Firefox suggestions, stats and data. You can turn these off. Part of the long game of trimming down the noise. But this is a solid choice for a mobile browser, and I'm quite happy.
Next, I installed VLC and HERE WeGo. Both work quite well.
Ergonomics & accessibility
One thing that used to bother me for a long time in G4 was that if you picked up the phone, the screen would wake and show you notifications. This function could be triggered by pretty much any action, so you would have the screen constantly waking and draining battery. The feature to tweak this off is available in the Moto app rather than standard Android settings. Same here.
Accessibility features are available, but not turned on. Adaptive brightness works really well, and I tested this even in glaring sunlight. Font clarity is good - you can change this if you need, and it's ironic that Chrome on desktop would have such a bad UI layout, but on the phone, it's actually designed to look and work well. The color and contrast are all dandy in Android. So this makes me wonder.
Now, the calendar app looks like something designed by a child. And if you go for En (US), which is in my view the only acceptable language for operating system interfaces, the weather thingie will suggest Fahrenheit as the temperature unit, which is sort of medieval. I mean really?
The camera is okay. Not stellar but good. Again, the first thing you have when you launch the camera app is a whole bunch of unnecessary stuff - location, object recognition, facial recognition. Why the hell would I want these options? If I'm taking pictures of my friends, I know who they are, and if they are strangers, then I don't care who they are.
Now, the actual quality of the photos. Well, I did compare to my Lumia 950, which is also what I did when testing both Moto G4 and iPhone 6s. Do take into account that Microsoft took special care to add great optics to their flagship model, plus don't forget the price difference, more than twice what G6 costs, and this plays an important factor. On the other hand, remember my Nokia E6 vs Samsung S5 experiment. Good quality is good. Anyway, let's see what gives here.
First, the same shot I did with the other phones - a photo of a working lamp. Moto G6 (right) has more artifacts than the Lumia (left), but the great thing is, it looks much better than the G4! Truer colors, and better separation of foreground and background. The sensor is also not as saturated by the strong light.
I also took a few shots outside. Now, the aspect ratio is a bit different, you will excuse me. Anyway, Lumia on the left, Moto on the right. The 950 does truer colors (even though they feel cooler). The Moto camera app also gives you a somewhat enhanced spectrum - you see things being brighter and more vivid than they actually are, so that can skew your perception. Then, Lumia also handled the fine detail better - photos taken from the exact same position and at the exact same time, and there's more depth. It is obvious that you can't have a supreme camera for USD250, but this seems to be the only (relative) downside of the phone. However, do not forget the device is better than what the G4 model offers. By a hefty margin.
Flowers, same thing. Lumia top, Moto bottom. Lumia does colors and detail better.
I also tested how close you get can to an object and still take a reasonable photo without blurring or smear. With Moto, I managed to get to about 10 cm from the object before things got weird and the camera refused to focus. The Lumia managed about 6 cm and with a bit more detail. Lumia left, Moto right. All in all, Moto is a true fighter for its price tag. Just imagine another hundred or two hundred dollars going into camera optics.
If you launch Google Music, it will ask you to setup an account (for money), but you can decline this. Then it tells you how you should never hear another ad. What. It's not like people choose to listen to ads! And it's not like the default state is ads. This is the wrong mentality, and it makes me angry. Hence VLC. Hence I'm not going to subscribe to this service (or some of the competitors), because I don't like when ads are being used as a leverage. I buy my music DRM-free and always get an offline copy, so I can listen to it anywhere I want, without data access if needs be, and without any restrictions. The Movies & TV apps isn't too bad, but it's just one of the many streaming services out there. Okay.
I was really annoyed when I launched the Youtube app, and the first thing was having to watch some pointless ad for something meaningless. And then, the question about how much I watch. Just let me enjoy some simple, classical music in peace, please. I fired up Firefox, and it did its job without noise.
VLC did its job wonderfully. I threw all sorts of things at it, and it did not blink. You also get player controls when the screen is locked. The audio quality is very good. I'm not the most sensitive audiophile in the world, but I'm quite pleased with what I'm hearing. The sound feels rich, there's no tinniness. So another notch for the Moto G6.
I did try to configure KDE Connect, and I did hook up Moto to several machines running different flavors of Linux. There's a happy side and there's a sad side to this story. We will elaborate on this more in one of my future Slimbook reports. This ain't strictly Moto, now.
Customization & appeal
The one big advantage Android has over iPhone is the ability to customize things. You want a different home screen launcher, sure (and I will soon be testing Windows Phone equivalents), you want your own wallpapers or ringtones, whatever. No issues.
The other side of this equation is the cuddly feel the operating system has. Android has improved and become quite stylish, and even I almost had moments where I thought I could turn this or that feature on, just because it was cool, and I could do it easily. Ordinary people stand no chance. Despite the annoyances and constant questions to enable this and that (before I finally had tamed the system), I wasn't too angry. There's psychology here, under the surface, and it's working. Classy colors, smooth elements, and the ease of doing things. You end immersed in an ecosystem that's vibrant, practical and relatively open, at least in terms of what you can do. No wonder Google has managed to grip the ordinary homo sapiens by the proverbial coconuts. They figured out the formula, and they're milking it oh so well.
After a while
The phone did settle. But if I'm not mistaken, there was (were) one or two settings changed. I mean are we doing the same silly game as in Windows 10 now, where updates randomly and arbitrarily alter things? I had to disable Moto notifications, disable unlimited data access for Cloud Print (go figure), plus some other options, all these on top of what I've already done during the initial setup. There's significant investment in having a quiet and peaceful experience - and again, everything works without any problems. We shall not surrender.
Three days in, light usage, still holding. I'm quite happy. Not only do you get a hefty battery, but you also conserve power if you reduce the background activity by turning features off. Every single notification, every single network chatter is electronic juice being used, and not necessarily for your benefit. So if you trim it all down, keep the sensors and apps off until you need them, you prolong your useful time in between charges. Of course, this is something to follow up on long term, but no complaints from me.
In the end, I tried my usage pattern over three full battery cycles - with roughly one hour of screen use a day, you get to have about 3 days in between charges, with both Wi-Fi and mobile data turned on. This is rather reasonable, but remember my glorious Nokia E6, which still does more than two weeks on a charge, even though I had that phone since 2011, and it comes with touch, full keyboard, dual-band Wi-Fi, great camera, and a lot more. Once upon a time.
There are two levels of concluding to be done here. I'll start with Android. The operating system is continuously improving, and I'm seeing a more refined interface, better privacy and security controls, better ergonomics, and more appeal. My style will always be Windows Phone, because that's how the phone UI should look like, and it's really a tragedy that Microsoft killed it. That said, despite my strong misgivings about these other mobile systems, I am sort of happy-ish with Android. Oreo looks the part. And I also managed to configure the phone to be privacy-elegant, albeit it did take time and effort, but it's doable. Then, there's the giant rest of the ecosystem and a super-high level of customization, which is what puts Android ahead of the rest. This is high praise from a skeptic, and someone who treats this whole mobile nonsense with utter disdain.
Now, Motorola Moto G6. This is an excellent phone. It's better than G4 I bought two years back in every way. It's classier in looks, comes with better specs, better camera, it's fast, it's simple and yet quite advanced at the same time, there's no bloatware, and the price tag is unbelievable. You really get a bucketload of goodies for a very modest cost. The camera is the only thing that could be better, but we're talking hundreds of dollars difference until you hit the right market rival.
I will never reconcile with the demise of Nokia and Windows Phone products. But in a reality where I must sample from lesser goods, the alternative isn't so bad. This does give me a small sense of relief in that my suffering will not be a great one. On a less dramatic note, if you're looking for a bargain Android phone with killer specs, vanilla operating system, a wealth of features, and solid results across the board, I am quite confident Moto G6 is the right answer. 10/10. Lovely jubbly.